With Greg Bird pronounced healthy, manager Joe Girardi was excited, near ecstatic, about adding a strong, left-handed bat to the Yankees equation.
And sure enough, the Yankees received a powerful, game-decisive lefty-hitting effort in the order.
Only it came from Jacoby Ellsbury, who has become the forgotten man in the Yankees’ outfield rotation.
Ellsbury drove in four runs, three of them on his seventh homer of the season, and the Yankees rode Sonny Gray’s seven strong, three-hit innings to a 6-3 victory Saturday over the Mariners before a Yankee Stadium crowd of 39,810.
Ellsbury singled in the game’s first run and then broke a 1-1 tie with his three-run bomb in the fourth off Seattle starter Yovanni Gallardo (5-10). Oh, and the right side got into the act as Starlin Castro, in his second game back from a DL stay, singled home two runs in the seventh to provide bullpen breathing room.
Gray (8-8, 2-3 with the Yankees) received a total of two runs of support in his three losses as a Yankee. In his previous Yankee win, he received five runs. So six probably seemed like an ultimate luxury.
Gray limited Seattle to three hits, including Carlos Ruiz’s solo homer that produced the only run he surrendered. Gray struck out nine, walked two and also hit two batters.
The Yankees bullpen made it interesting yielding two runs, one unearned, and two stranded runners in the eighth. Yankees lefty Chasen Shreve, sandwiching a Chase Headley throwing error, yielded a Danny Valencia double and an RBI single to Kyle Seager.
Tommy Kahnle, last seen throwing behind Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera, relieved and got two outs before Guillermo Heredia singled in a run making it 6-3. But Kahnle got pinch hitter Robinson Cano to bounce out. Dellin Betances pitched the ninth for his 10th save.
So for a second straight game, the Yankees welcomed back a regular from the disabled list as Bird (ankle injury, surgery) made his first appearance since May 1. Castro returned Friday for the first time since July 21. Bird played a part in the Yankees’ first four runs.
Not as big a part as Ellsbury’s starring role but a part all the same.
With two out in the fourth and the score tied 1-1, Bird rapped a single to right against Gallardo. Headley, playing third base with Bird’s return at first, walked before Ellsbury belted a 1-0 changeup into the seats in right, making it 4-1.
Castro’s two-run hit that essentially buried the Mariners, who started the day ½ game out of the second wild-card hunt, came with two outs. Austin Romine and Brett Gardner singled and, after two outs, a walk to Didi Gregorius loaded the bases. Then Castro put the game away with his hit to left off Casey Lawrence.
The Yankees used some small ball to grab a 1-0 lead in the second inning.
After going 0-for-3 in the first inning with leadoff man Gardner (single, wild pitch) on second base, the Yankees bunted to build their run. Gallardo walked both Castro and Bird. Headley sacrificed for the inning’s initial out.
Ellsbury, after looking at an 0-2 slider that was at worst real close, lined a single to left. Castro scored but Seattle’s Ben Gamel threw a one-hop peg home and Bird was tagged out as his lead foot was up and never touched the plate.
The Mariners quickly got the run back with their first hit of the day. Ruiz deposited a 2-0 Gray fastball into the left field seats for his second homer of the season with one out in the third, making it 1-1.